‘My friend died after being declared fit for work – this can’t keep happening’ – Today News


 A friend of a man who dropped to six-stone and died while the DWP ignored warnings from doctors about his failing health has lashed out a Tory government “that does not care”   Terry Craven, whose friend Steve Smith became skin and bones but was shockingly declared fit to work before dying of pneumonia, says there have been “deaths, suicides and accelerated deterioration in sick and disabled people, who have outrageously been found fit for work”   Writing in the Metro , Mr Craven says the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) by the Tories in their 2012 Welfare Reform Act, has led to “about 1,600 working-age disabled people are dying every year after having their claim for disability benefits rejected”  Pictures of 64-year-old Mr Smith’s’s skeletal frame shocked the nation when they were published in February  He could barely walk and had to get a pass to leave hospital to fight the Department for Work and Pension’s decision to axe his disability benefits  The DWP had ruled the Liverpudlian could work and ordered him to sign on for Job Seeker’s Allowance and head to the job centre once a week to prove he was looking for work  But the tribunal ruled in favour of Mr Smith after a judge saw he could barely walk down the road and the DWP were made to pay him £4,000 in back pay  Sadly, he never had the chance to use it – and it was instead used to pay for his funeral  Mr Craven, who is a benefits adviser and tribunal representative at the Community Advice Services Association in Liverpool, writes: “In July 2017, I met Steve, who had been found fit for work even though he had many debilitating illnesses, and I helped him with his appeal    “Over time, we became friends, and it was me who rang 999 when we realised he was seriously ill He was admitted to hospital where he was told he was suffering from pneumonia, which he never fully recovered from and subsequently died  “I am convinced Steve would not have died so soon if he had received the benefits he was entitled to ”   In April, the Liverpool Echo revealed  doctor’s letters were issued to the DWP on Mr Smith’s behalf, warning about his failing health and how this could be affected if he was found ‘fit to find work ‘  Two letters, from two different doctors, sent in October 2017 and January 2018, were reportedly ignored by the department as it continued to block his benefits and force him to continue the exhausting battle  Mr Craven writes that Mr Smith had worked all his life, including running a shop repairing electrical appliances in Liverpool, before he caught terminal emphysema  He could not walk 10 metres without gasping for breath, Mr Craven said, while the test for the PIP examines whether you can walk 20 metres and ESA 50 metres  Despite this, Mr Smith’s was taken off ESA but not PIP, which “made no sense.”  It took two years of campaigning and an internal inquiry before fault was admitted, but Mr Craven said his friend still never received the money he was owed  Mr Craven believes that, had his friend been awarded ESA, his quality of life would have “improved drastically”  Mr Smith could not afford to heat his home or move to a more manageable property  He lived in a three-bedroom house with no running water. It was infested with rats and had a problem with the roof and Mr Craven believes this contributed to his Pneumonia  The Echo had repeatedly asked Amber Rudd, the then Secretary of State for the DWP, to respond or even acknowledge what happened to him She reportedly failed to respond.  Mr Craven explicitly claims in his piece that the policies of Tory governments since 2010, which include numerous cuts to welfare and new, harsher criteria for benefits, have been slammed as unfair and undignified by several campaigners  He says this is all evidence to suggest “the government does not care” and calls for the benefits assessment process to be changed to prevent further deaths and unnecessary stress to those already suffering and in need  A DWP spokesman said in April: “A spokesman for the DWP said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Smith at this difficult time  “A review has been conducted into Mr Smith’s ESA claim and how this was handled, and we will continue to learn lessons to strengthen the assessment process  “We are committed to ensuring that everyone with a health condition receives the support they are entitled to, and while assessments work well for the majority of claimants we are changing and improving how we support people with disabilities ”

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